Americans consider marijuana to be less harmful than alcohol, cigarettes, vapes and other tobacco products, according to new data from Gallup. And at the same time, cannabis use has “surpassed cigarette usage in the U.S., while vaping still trails both,” the polling firm says.
The survey represents a continuation of a years-long trend, with American adults increasingly abandoning cigarettes as awareness of their public health risks expands. The data shows an opposite trend for marijuana, with perceptions of harm decreasing as more states legalize its use and more adults identify as active consumers.
Respondents were asked about seven different substances and whether they viewed them as “very,” “somewhat” or “not too/not at all” harmful. Two in five Americans (40 percent) said that marijuana was not too, or not at all, harmful.
That’s 10 times as many people who said that cigarettes were relatively harmless (four percent) and more than double the percentage who said the same about alcohol (16 percent).
Meanwhile, only 23 percent of respondents said marijuana was “very harmful,” compared to 76 percent for cigarettes, 54 percent for e-cigarettes, 39 percent for cigars and 30 percent for alcohol.
“Marijuana garnered the lowest level of health concern in comparison to other substances, but separate Gallup research has shown that three in four U.S. adults are very or somewhat concerned about the effects marijuana has on young adults and teens who use it regularly,” the firm’s analysis, published on Thursday, says.
The survey—which involved interviews with 1,015 American adults from July 3-27, with a +/-four percentage point margin of error—was also referenced in a separate Gallup report on cigarette and cannabis use that was published on Friday.
That poll found that the use of cigarettes remains stable at a historic low, with just 12 percent of adults saying that they’ve smoked a cigarette in the past week. Part of that trend reflects increased use of e-cigarettes by young adults, 18 percent of whom say they vape.
“But marijuana usage surpasses both of those products among young adults,” Gallup said. “[S]ince 2019, an average of 27 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have said they smoke marijuana.”
Overall, fully half of American adults now say they’ve tried cannabis at least once—and 17 percent say they’ve currently smoke marijuana, which is five percentage points higher compared to rates of current cigarette use. It should be noted that the poll asked about “smoking” cannabis, so the total likely excludes current cannabis consumers who use non-inhalable products like edibles and oils.
“Cigarettes continue to fall out of favor with Americans, as only about one in eight U.S. adults now smoke them. Marijuana usage has surpassed cigarette usage in the U.S., while vaping still trails both,” Gallup said. “These changes seem to be driven by changing habits among young adults, who are more likely to smoke marijuana and e-cigarettes than cigarettes, and far less likely than young adults in past decades to smoke cigarettes.”
“The fact that Americans generally view cigarettes as the most harmful of the three suggests that public health efforts to discourage cigarette smoking have been getting through,” the report says. “Still, most Americans view vaping and marijuana as at least somewhat harmful to health, and public health experts who agree may want to make sure young adults get those messages too.”
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Another poll published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) this month similarly shows that people increasingly view smoking marijuana or being exposed to secondhand cannabis smoke as safer than smoking or being near tobacco smoke.
A separate survey released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and Morning Consult in June also found that Americans consider marijuana to be significantly less dangerous than cigarettes, alcohol and opioids—and they say cannabis is less addictive than each of those substances, as well as technology.
Last year, a survey showed that Americans believe that cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. And a separate poll released that year found that more Americans now openly admit that they smoke marijuana or eat cannabis-infused edibles than say they’ve smoked cigarettes in the past week.
Also, a study published in May found that state-level legalization is associated with a “small, occasionally significant longer-run declines in adult tobacco use.”
Meanwhile, a poll Gallup conducted in 2020 also found that 70 percent of Americans view smoking cannabis to be a morally acceptable activity. That’s higher than their views on the morality of issues such as gay relationships, medical testing of animals, the death penalty and abortion.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
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